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The Future Of Selling, Not What You Think It Will Be

by David Brock on August 18th, 2020

There seems to be wide agreement that the pandemic and related economic and social challenges we and our customers face, will change selling forever (and I think for the good.)

The concept of “virtual selling,” seems to be dominating many of our conversations. Digital transformation, more broadly, covering selling, marketing, customer experience, and other parts of the organization has become a buzzword for business, selling, and marketing in the future.

But I’ve been troubled by those concepts, not because I disagree, but I don’t know that I know what they really mean.

When I ask people, to explain virtual selling or digital transformation, the answers I get have more to do with technology. People talk about driving efficiency with virtual meetings, leveraging things like Zoom, Teams, or other ways to conduct these meetings at a distance. Or they talk about digital transformation in terms of the tools we use to engage customers, like websites, social channels, content, AI/ML, bots and other technologies.

I get it, these will be critical elements in the future. But they were critical a year ago, as well. It’s clear, these things are enabling us to engage customers, given customers don’t want us visiting them F2F, or don’t want to subject their people to traveling.

But somehow, there seems to be a big gap, these technologies aren’t completely satisfying. Despite having participated in dozens of virtual meetings, there seems to be a huge gap or loss in our communications with customers, their ability to communicate with each other, and our ability to communicate within our own teams and partners.

While the technology may help with as much as 85% of the communications challenge, somehow it seems to me that last 15% of communication is being missed. And that is probably more important than what the technology enables.

Now we are getting reports about the challenges people face in working remotely. We are seeing feelings of being “disconnected,” or isolated, despite hour after hour of Zoom calls. Researchers are seeing increases in incidents of depression. We are seeing increases in physical and mental exhaustion with the “always on” atmosphere created by living where you work.

In situations, like complex buying or even aligning around problem solving, we are seeing increasing difficulties and communications loss. Sure we see the person talking and their powerpoints, and we can see each person in the “room.” We get distracted by their backgrounds, real or virtual. But somehow we don’t seem to be accomplishing as much. We are still not connected and aligned, even though each participant is hearing the same things.

Don’t get me wrong, the technology enables us to connect in ways we haven’t been able to do in the past. But something is missing.

As we dive into it, we realize it’s the “humanity.” We recognize “connecting” isn’t just about seeing and hearing people. Connecting is about a relationship between people. It’s about understanding who people are, what they stand for, what they value, and their identity—perhaps not at a deep level, but at a level that transcends just seeing and hearing them.

Connecting is about establishing trust and we establish trust through establishing some level of relationship.

As much as we may fool ourselves into thinking it’s about the technology, we cannot escape the fact that, particularly in knowledge based jobs, getting work done, making progress is about connecting people in meaningful ways.

Of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Selling, complex problem solving has always been about people connecting with people. But in past years, we seem to have let the technology distract us.

It’s stunning that it takes something like this pandemic to bring the importance of people and their humanity back to the forefront.

The future of selling doesn’t look a lot different from the past. It is about people connecting with people in meaningful and trusting ways. It is about understanding who each individual is, as a human, and establishing some sort of bond at a human level.

Afterword: Thanks so much Sheevaun, Bill, Brent, Jill for the discussions we’ve had on this topic.

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One Comment
  1. Great article David. Totally agree. I’d like to qualify one thing…. you say, “The future of selling doesn’t look a lot different from the past.” I would hope not. Three points:
    1. I would hope that sales evolves into a profession that treats people as respected humans before treating them as valuable customers. It’s a subtle, though very powerful distinction that mainstream Sales/Selling ignores. I agree that we’ve been seduced into thinking that “progress” equals technology.

    2. Sales should be seen, first and foremost, as an outcome…. not a process. Good selling should start with/ be defined as “it’s what happens when I’m not there.” Who else and what human emotions are likely to play a role in the acceptance of my proposal, or not.

    3. The fundamentals of human behaviour haven’t changed in thousands of years. A few millennia ago you may have been jealous of the size of my herd of camels. These days you may be jealous of the number of Facebook likes I get. The emotion of “jealousy” and the resultant behaviour is the same.

    Thanks again, Mark

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